“Once upon a time, in an era before the Villages were created,
before Senju Hashirama and Uchiha Madara had a dream,
there was a little girl on the shores of Uzushiogakure that loved sea turtles…”
When Umiko was real little, her mama would take her down the shore over the big rocks to watch the sea turtles dig their way out of the sand and find their way to the ocean. They’d go every season together. Callused, salt stained hands more used to holding nets than pudgy little hands guiding her where to step and how not to slip. They’d practice writing their names in the sand and build little castles by starlight until dawn when life stirred beneath the sand.
There was no more of that.
Mama had died a few months back bringing Umiko’s little brother into the world. It was a little unexpected that she’d died, since she was Uzumaki, but sometimes things like that happened. More outside of Uzu, but it wasn’t unheard of within the lay of their little village, growing though it was. Childbirth was dangerous, even for people who had lots of chakra to spare, and Fuuinjutsu could only do so much.
It was like how mama told her they couldn’t chase off the birds that ate the baby turtles, because it was the circle of life.
Sometimes things died and that was okay.
The sea gave life, and all things eventually returned to it.
So this was the first time that Umiko was going down to the rocky shore to watch baby turtles dig their way out of the dark into the sun. To flop and flounder their way towards the lapping waves into the safety of the deep ocean where they’d grow big and strong and come back to make more babies someday. Maybe when Umiko got old enough and she found a husband, she’d bring her own babies down to see that sea turtles.
She thinks mama would have liked that.
Careful little hands that were just starting to grow the calluses of her trade from weaving nets made of chakra and seaweed clung to smoothed rock faces. Water wore away at everything, papa was always saying, like time it never stopped flowing and nothing could hold it back forever.
It was difficult, climbing down on her own, little bare feet curling toes into tiny pockmarks clinging with ghosts of chakra. She slipped a few times, getting scrapes on her palms and knees, bruising arms and legs hard enough that lips pursed at the pain. As a budding little fisherman Umiko had had her fair share of bumps and bruises, cutting her hands and feet on rocks and sharp knives.
She could take it because she was a tough little sea stone, just like papa said, but tears were okay because they had to make sure that the ocean stayed salty.
Umiko didn’t feel like crying though. She’d done enough of that after mama had first drifted away and her little nameless brother had come into the world. Papa said it was tradition to name him something after he was a year old, just like they’d done for her, in case the sea decided to take him back early. Said that his spirit wouldn’t linger or be polluted before reincarnation if they waited to name him until a year and a day after he’d been born. That sin didn’t stick until there was a name for the Shinigami to call when he came for you.
While she didn’t really get it, she loved him all the same, and called him a seagull baby because he liked to scream for food.
Papa thought it was funny, but she wasn’t wrong.
“Oof!” she grunted as she fell to the sand beneath the final rock. “Ugh, san’ in’ma mouth…”
A quick twist of spit and chakra in her mouth cleared the grit out as she stood, brushing off the sand from her butt as she stood.
Turning away from the intimidating wall of big sharp rocks, Umiko pattered through the sand towards the place she’d always sit with mama. It was smoother and had a dipping bowl in which to sit comfortably and for some reason it held the warmth of the sun better. She’d fallen asleep on it more than once, curled up with her head in mama’s lap and her rough hands petting her hair.
With a quick sniff at the sudden wetness in her nose, the girl scuttled up onto the rock, panting a little from the exertion of the morning. It was a rest day, so papa had said she could play if she wanted and didn’t have to spend her time with either baby bird or learning about weaving.
When she was bigger, they’d teach her how to use the boats and ships in the harbor so that someday if she wanted to, she could be a captain too.
That seemed like fun, but Umiko wasn’t about to decide anything just yet.
Maybe after her brother had a name.
Being down by the water was soothing, familiar and an infinite, unchangeable constant.
Pulling the little bag of fried fish from the night before out of the inside pocket of her yukata she settled down contently to watch the sand start to pop up here and there. Little flippers working from the inside to shuffle their way out into the world, to strive forwards towards the water, the tide taking them home.
It was just as the sun was cresting over horizon, turning the water burbling pinks, reds and yellow that she saw it. Out passed where the fishing boats went to lay down their nets, near where the merchants set out towards the other places in the world for trade.
The Reef Turtle!
Scrambling to her feet she nearly threw herself off of the rock to run towards the waterline, dancing around tiny turtle bodies as they emerged with the light of the sun. Hand lifting to her brow to shade her eyes from the unrelenting glare of the morning star so as not to impede her vision.
Like a whale breaching out of the water, the great, spiky beast rumbled up out of the depths, armored tails slapping against the water lazily. Mist trailed in the water around it, like another tail, a banner of where it had once been as the current and the wind brought tingles of other chakra like droplets in the air.
Gray eyes sparkled an intense, sudden infatuation.
Little hands framed her mouth as she took a deep breath into her tiny lungs.
“Good Morning, Turtle-nii-san!” she cried as loudly as she could, startling a few of the birds that had wandered into the area.
Looking for a potential easy snack, like a little turtle whose shell wasn’t too hard just yet, the birds decided to try elsewhere. Because even though she wasn’t one of the Uzumaki, she was of their blood, and her lungs said as much from close distances.
It was impossible for it to have heard her, so great was the distance, but still she waved her arm energetically, a giant grin on her face that felt more real than it had in months.
Mama had said that the Reef Turtle was born from the Sage of Six Paths, that it’d brought Natural Chakra into the world. She’d said that it grew the beautiful coral reefs out in the ocean that the pearl divers worked in, trailing life behind it just like that mist. She said that the mist gave dreams almost like a genjutsu or a Uchiha’s eyes, but sometimes, if you were careful and concentrated, it could give visions of the future or maybe of the past.
The last sighting of the Reef Turtle, the great Tailed Beast, had been on Umiko’s naming day.
A good omen!
She startled when it turned towards the shore on which she stood, baby turtles flapping at her feet into the surf, flippers tapping against her little callused feet as they passed. Those three great, giant tails looked big from so far away Umiko couldn’t fathom what they must have looked like from up close. They lifted and waved before slapping into the surface as the water, sending waves crashing outwards from its titanic body.
Laughing in delight, Umiko lifted both arms to wave again, hopping up and down and near tumbling over herself as she tried not to crush little shells beneath her feet.
More mist filtered out around its great spiny form before it dived once more, the water smoothing out nearly instantly as it disappeared from view.
“Mama, I saw’t!” she crowed, twirling in place. “I saw da Reef Turtle!”
Best. Day. Ever!
Now that she’d seen the Reef Turtle for herself, Umiko spent every rest day she could out on what she called Turtle Beach.
Rarely did she see the Reef Turtle again, but every time she did she’d wave and call out a greeting to the giant being. Sometimes she’d get those tail slaps on the water again, but usually it seemed not to hear her and would dip beneath the water again.
It went on like that for a couple years until Umiko was old enough to learn how to use the dingy to get out to the fishing boats. She’d dragged it to the shore after she’d carefully rowed herself around the cape to her Turtle Beach, a new investigative tool in her arsenal.
Umiko wasn’t particularly learned, not being an actual Uzumaki Clan member, but she knew enough to scribble Seals onto her boat so that it wouldn’t get to badly scraped up. She might have run into a few rocks and nearly run it aground a couple of time, but it was still in working condition, even if it wasn’t pretty. It suited her needs fine, and if she wanted shiny things there were plenty of shells she could have papa braid into her hair.
Early in the morning on her rest days, her Turtle hunting out in the water began.
She knew enough to know that going out in bad weather wasn’t something she was capable of yet. Didn’t mean she couldn’t sit on the shore with her little rowboat propped up as an upside-down shelter and wait. Hoping to see him in spite of the murky weather and pouring rain, playing games and making complex stories.
Papa thought she was silly, chasing after the Reef Turtle all the time, but he didn’t tell her not to. He’d simply ruffle her braids and tweak her nose before he sent her on her way.
Eventually, when her brother, now named Mizuiro, got big enough she’d take him to Turtle Beach at hatching season to see the babies.
Just because Mama couldn’t didn’t mean that he shouldn’t get to have those mornings on the beach watching little flippers toss sand. Umiko would teach him about all the things that mama had had the time to teach her, because it helped to remember them and also because it was fair to him. Papa was still around to teach about all the fishing stuff, the weather and boats, about the trade rates and seasons for certain kinds of seafood.
Mama wasn’t there to talk about weaving Seals into nets, about singing the old songs and telling the old stories from way back when.
Umiko didn’t know them all, of course, but she’d teach him what she could, and the Elders would take care of the rest.
He wasn’t quite big enough to help her with her Turtle Watching, but he was getting there. Umiko hoped that she grew big enough that she’d be able to carry him over the big rocks by the time the hatching started.
She thinks she was his age when they started, but it was a long time ago now.
“Happy Solstice Turtle-nii-san!” she hollered as was her way when he surfaced, delighted at the waterspout he created in response. “Good tidings!”
The mist that it released shifted on a current of wind up, up, up into the sky, catching the morning sunlight and bursting color across the ocean. Umiko found herself speechless for a moment, eyes wide and breath caught at the sudden burst of beauty that she could almost feel in her bones.
Tears prickled her eyes at the sight, that other chakra prickling at her skin even as she grinned, eyes crinkling. Heedless of the water sliding over blood darkened cheeks on sun dark skin the girl waved enthusiastically again, heart pounding loudly in her chest.
“Thank ya for da rainbow!”
While she loved the game and seeing the great creature, well.
Turtle Chasing was more about playing out on the water than actually catching up to the great Reef Turtle.
Umiko might be a willful, energetic child like most in the village, but she didn’t start tasks with a mind towards a goal she didn’t likely see coming about. Mama had been, and papa was, a realist, and while they didn’t mind encouraging her creativity and imagination, they also didn’t want her getting hurt doing something she wasn’t ready for.
There was no way of being ready to meet a great being like the Reef Turtle, but that didn’t mean she didn’t dream about it.
“Goin’ off ta chase da minogame ‘gain, Umi-chan?” papa asked her as he handed her some candied fruit. “On ya nameday?”
“Yea, papa!” recently, she’d lost another tooth and so air whistled through the gap. “Seein’ Turtle-nii-san’d be a good nameday presen’, wouldn’it?”
“Good omens,” he agreed, thick fingered black skinned hands weaving her auburn hair into little braids. “Can’ever ‘ave too many.”
Sometimes she wished that she had papa’s white hair, black skin and bright blue eyes, but usually she liked seeing reminders of her mama’s red hair, pale skin and purple eyes. People called her a good mix of the two, nut brown and gray eyed though she was, hair a brownish red.
Mostly, she was happy to be alive.
Umiko was Umiko. Her mother was the bright red of sea cucumbers crawling across seaweed coated stones. The silver and purple flash of a fish’s scales when the water was disturbed, calling to be chased and found.
She was everywhere, if she knew how to look.
“Mizu-chan an’ I’ll be waitin’ at da meetin’ hall for ya ‘t noon,” he told her once he’d finished hanging the fishbones in her hair for luck and to denote the family trade. “Try notta be late.”
“’Kay kay, papa!”
So with her snacks tucked into her short yukata pocket and her hair done securely, the young girl ran to her rocky Turtle Beach.
Pushing the little rowboat out into the water was always a struggle, thin, whippy arms and legs shaking as she heaved and hoed. It was difficult, but she always felt better when it was done and she could huff and puff in the safety of the boat, soothed by the rocking of the ocean. On the back end of her rowboat there was a carefully woven line that connected to the shore, tied around one of those large rocks that protected the beach.
Just in case she got tired and started drifting. It was better to be able to reel herself back in that way, than to be lost out at sea.
Sure, it limited her area of exploration, but it also got her home in time for dinner.
Most of the time.
Playing pretend more than searching for her beloved Reef Turtle, Umiko liked to make-believe that she was a pirate out on the open sea. That she was exploring the lands beyond the Elemental Nations, out passed the great inky abyss that split the world in two. That she’d found some great sunken village of a time gone by that had once been blessed by the Sage of Six Paths, housing some great chakra magic that could save the world.
Did she want to hoard it for herself, like a pirate would?
Would she share it, and bring about world peace?
Or would she leave, deciding that a simple pirate couldn’t choose the fate of the world?
Tough, life altering decisions were being made, when something slammed into the bottom of her boat and nearly sent her flying over the side into the water.
Immediate anxiety burst in her chest and Umiko dropped to the belly of her little boat, holding onto the seat tightly, eyes wide. She’d done this dozens of time by now and she’d never had anything even come near her boat. The Seals papa had put on the bottom made it so that the creatures of the sea avoided it something fierce, meaning that she couldn’t even fish from her rowboat.
What was that?
“H-Hello?” she muttered tremulously, inching towards the side to look over. “’S anyone there?”
“C’mon, Umi, quit talkin’ at yaself.”
Peeking over the side Umiko felt terror slide behind her ribcage and encircle her heart in cold, skeletal fingers.
A shark toothed smile in a very humanish face regarded her before something slammed into her boat once again, sending her tumbling back. Before she could reorient herself the boat jerked again, this time differently, and she spun around on her hands and knees to stare in horror at the frayed edge of her lifeline. She’d already been at the end of her rope, and the current could pull her away much faster than she could row back to shore.
Long fingered, extra jointed, finned hands shimmering with greenish blue scales slid over the edge of her boat and hooked curved talons over one of her oars.
Her only chance to go home.
“No!” she cried in fear, clamoring after it even as the boat rocked again, sending her to her back. “No, please!”
Watery laughter surrounded her, bubbling up out of the depths and she felt tears pooling in her eyes as large black, depthless ones stared at her over the edge of her boat.
“Ooh, po’ah litta walkie,” susurrated from one side and then the other, voices indistinguishable from one another. “All lone onna wadda.”
“Please, Hamaguchi-san!” her lips trembled, and tears slid over the apples of her cheeks as she huddled in on herself. “Please, I wanna go back!”
“Ooh, bu’ dontchu lahik da wadda?” one dark eyed individual asked, facial fins flaring outwards from their cheeks. “Walkie lahik da wadda ‘til dayha losin’ da land, huh?”
There were horror stories, about what the Hamaguchi people did to the people who dared to make a living on the sea. Unlike their more compassionate cousins the Hoshigaki who judged a person based on the honesty of the blood that slid through their veins, the Hamaguchi just hated people who lived on land. No one knew where the Hamaguchi lived, most suspected that they had an island hidden out in the water where they daren’t go, but no one really knew.
Boats would be found though, with mangled, half eaten corpses aboard. Teeth marks that matched those of the Hamaguchi, their distinctive scales scraped from the wood before the tainted boat was burned.
Papa had lost a brother to the Hamaguchi way back before Umiko had been born, and she vaguely remembered a young woman and her paramour had washed ashore a few years back.
The Hamaguchi didn’t normally come so close to the shores of Uzushio though, didn’t go within spitting distance of the Uzumaki.
Why had they now?
“I love da ocean,” she whispered wetly, blinking rapidly, hot tears spilling over as numbness slid over trembling features. Her heart flashed to thick fingers in her hair, a flash of red in the shallows, a curious head tilt and wide trusting eyes. She was going to die. “I love it.”
She was going to be eaten alive by people who didn’t even have the decency to be animals who didn’t know better.
On her nameday.
Eyes widening as another hook clawed, scaled hand reached in to take her other oar Umiko shrank back underneath the rowboat’s seat. More watery laughter and fake, sympathetic cooing slid over her ears as her little boat was bumped again and again.
“Wehl, if’n da walkie lahikin’ da wadda,” slid out from between serrated teeth. “Be jussa leavin’ ya ta’t.”
With that, they slid back down into the water, taking her oars, and her hopes, with them.
When she got up the courage to sit up from her curled position, her tears had stopped, and her nose was stuffy. Swallowing thickly, she looked hastily towards the horizon, hoping to find land somewhere.
A sob escaped her before she could help it, her little callused hand raising to rub at her eyes as her other wrapped around her thin waist. Fabric rustled and her inside pocket shifted against her ribcage, reminding her of the candied fruit that her papa had given her.
Pulling them out, she sniffled, staring dully down at plum slices, persimmons and mango. As last meals went, it wasn’t so bad.
So, it looked like they weren’t going to eat her. Probably too bony for them. But.
But they’d obviously been moving her while they’d been playing with her and she couldn’t see, didn’t know how far away she was. Too far, either way, especially with no oars and no lifeline.
No food after she finished her fruit. Only a single water skin of fresh water.
Umiko could sorta filter the salt outta seawater, but not all of it and there was only so much that she could ingest without making herself sick. Not that she’d last much longer without food either way.
Ultimately, she was going to starve to death under the heat of the sun.
Even though she knew it would just dehydrate her faster, Umiko cried, curled around a little bag of fruit that was meant as a gift.
Crying was tiring though, and she couldn’t do it for long, even if she was full of terror and grief at what was to come.
Since she had nothing else to do, she went back to her game. It wasn’t as fun, but she needed to distract herself somehow and there was nothing else she could think of to do that, other than perhaps singing or sleeping. She was too worked up for sleep and she didn’t think that she was quite in the mood to sing, so the only thing to do was to play make believe.
It was safer than sulking in depression until she died.
So the great Pirate Queen Umiko of Uzushiogakure swung her great trident made of coral – gifted by the Reef Turtle, of course – to part the clouds above! The storm paused at the power of her mighty cleave, the heavens themselves taking great heaving breaths in wonder. She’d saved the ship and her crew from no doubt terrible injury and even death from the unwitting storm the Great Beetle had stirred in its wake. A playful, silly creature, the Great Beetle had little in the way of animosity and was said to gambol in the mountains more than above the sea and so likely knew nothing of hurricanes.
Oh no, a tsunami was going to overtake barrier walls protecting the underwater city which had stood for a thousand years! Pirate Queen Umiko, who had taken to storing all her most important treasures beneath the waves, and as such was having none of it!
She’d just have to take her Coral Trident and –
The boat rocked beneath her again, and renewed terror dropped her to the belly of the boat once again.
Were they back?! Were they going to eat her?! Umiko didn’t want to die yet!
Mist tickled at her skin, that chakra that was so very full of other hitting her deep in her stomach so that she gasped for breath. The world around her grew silent in a way that she had never experienced in her short years, like the realm of existence was stretching to fit something it wasn’t built to accommodate.
Water no longer lapped at the edges of her rowboat, the very air had found serenity, halting the wind in its tracks. Her heartbeat was loud in a way that it had never been before, her breathes more felt and tasted than she could ever remember.
She didn’t even have to get up from the belly of her boat to see the great armored plates of her beloved Reef Turtle in all its glory.
Before she could help herself, habit took over.
Habit, and a deep-seated hope.
“Hello Turtle-nii-san!” she cried, voice cracking against the dryness of her throat as a grin overtook her slightly burnt face. “It’s good ta see ya!”
It sounded like rock scraping against itself as the titanic creature shifted in place, great tails swaying to the side as it did so. That single open gigantic red and yellow eye blinked from way, way, way up in the air before it was suddenly getting closer at ridiculous speeds.
Her body vibrated with force before she heard anything, her heart shuddering in her chest almost painfully.
“What is a little girl doing so far from her shore?” it asked her in a curious all-encompassing voice, the way it spoke fancy, but denoting that it was masculine in some form. “A little girl is normally on her shore playing games.”
Even though his voice was loud and somewhat painful to hear, Umiko felt her lips trembling again at the reminder of just what had happened to her.
“I was playin’ on my boat an’ then there were Hamaguchi an’ I thought they was gonna eat me an’ they cut ma rope an’ stole ma oars an’ I dunno how ta get back ta da shore an’ – an’ –” hiccupping in distress. “An’ I dunno how ta get ho-ha-ha-hooooome …”
Crying anew, Umiko pressed her hands against her eyes and sobbed, barely noticing the way the rocky surface around that large eye creased unhappily.
“This Isobu will take the little girl to her home,” he said to her once she was sniffling instead of weeping loudly like the child she was. “This Isobu carries his home with him always, but this Isobu will take the girl to her shore so that she can go home and continue her play.”
Wiping her eyes one last time, Umiko stood on shaky legs, noting with a jolt of clarity that she was no longer floating on the sea. Instead, her little rowboat was sitting on one of the Reef Turtle’s tails and he was carrying her next to his face while he swam.
“Ya name’s Isobu?” she asked, sniffling and feeling hope unfurl in her chest. “C’n I call ya Isobu-nii-san?”
That large eye blinked at her slowly.
“If a girl gives this one a name to call her as well,” he stated after a moment. “Then this Isobu wouldn’t mind being so spoken to.”
“M’names Umiko!” she grinned at him, eyes sparkling with more than tears once again. “Thanks for the ride, Isobu-nii-san!”
“The little girl from the shore’s name is Umiko,” Isobu mused, eye crinkling like a cliff face shifting. “This one likes Umiko’s name. A child of the sea and shore, she is.”
“Ooh, if’n I had a blood name, y’think it’d be Ohama?” she asked excitedly, leaning over the edge of her boat trustingly. “Does Isobu-nii-san have a blood name? I know ya was born from da Sage, same’s the other Great Beings, but do ya got’un?”
“Hmm,” something almost sad passed through the ever-present mist that surrounded the turtle and Umiko felt concern tilt her features. “This one’s family name would perhaps be Ōtsutsuki if this one favored any. And for Umiko? Isobu likes the name Nagisa.”
“Nagisa Umiko?” she tasted the name, feeling it out in her mouth, ignoring the whistle of her missing tooth and the unclenching knot of fear in her chest. “I think I like it. C’n I have it?”
“This one does not much mind what Umiko calls herself,” the Reef Turtle told her plainly. “But if Umiko would like the name, Isobu will not stop her.”
“Isobu-nii-san talks all fancy,” she giggled to herself, delighted when the shore came into sight on the distant horizon. She’d been drifting for hours already and she’d definitely missed her meetup with papa and Mizuiro. She was feeling woozy and tired, but she was so very relieved. “Wanna be friends, Isobu-nii-san?”
“This one has had few… ‘friends’,” the three tailed turtle spoke thoughtfully. “So he does not know what the little girl wants.”
“Wanna play with me?”
“Yea, see, I preten’ I’m –”
While her nameday had perhaps started off well in the early morning hours and gotten terribly, terrifyingly shaky in the middle, it hadn’t ended badly at all.
A lifelong friend was definitely the best nameday present she’d ever gotten. Especially because it was her beloved Reef Turtle.
Umiko would never regret Turtle Beach, or the adventures it had gifted her with.
The sea gives and the sea takes.
This time, it had given.